Spending  time out of mind with Richard Gere

Spending time out of mind with Richard Gere

Joyce Glasser reviews Time out of Mind

Richard Gere spent most of his successful career playing ladies’ men, sex symbols and suave tycoons.  Last year, at 65, he appeared in the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a romantic seducer.   But something has changed.

Last week, in Andrew Renzi’s The Benefactor, Gere set aside vanity, and even dignity, to get under the skin of an empty, lonely philanthropist who becomes addicted to prescription drugs.  Time out of Mind, which Gere stars in and also produced, is a very different film, but it could be a sequel to the Benefactor.  A once respected sixty-something man is at the end of a familiar downward spiral, having lost everything and alienated everyone.

Time Out of Mind is written and directed by Oren Moverman, who, with his two previous films, The Messenger and Rampart, has gained a track record for getting up close and personal with emotionally damaged American men over 50.   In Time of Out of Mind Moverman immerses us in the boredom and drudgery of homelessness until it is palpable.  This nearly backfires in the painfully slow first half, while Gere’s courageously honest and heartfelt performance may not be enough to counter his superstar status.

George (Gere) is found sleeping in the bathtub of a derelict flat and the foreman of the redevelopment evicts him.  After bumming some cash for booze, George drags his suitcase along the miserable streets and through crowded train stations. He stands, he sits, and he tries one last time to gain access to his squat.  Finally, even his suitcase is swallowed up by the streets.  With what is left of his belongings in a small bag, he checks into Manhattan’s cavernous Bellevue Hospital. Stretching before him are hundreds of beds and on them, lost souls just like him.  But George is not at home here. He is suspicious of a man he finds on his bed and is assaulted night and day by the white noise that never stops.

One of the most annoying guests at Bellevue is Dixon (an unrecognisable Ben Vereen), a seasoned inmate of the NYC shelter system who is shunned by the other men.  If George is suffering from alcoholism, Dixon has all the signs of chronic talkaholism.  Dixon follows George around rambling on incomprehensibly until we want to throw something at him through the screen.  Yet when a guard at Bellevue asks George if Dixon is bothering him, he says no.  In moments of lucidity, Dixon helps George take incremental steps toward confronting the bureaucracy in order to gain access to benefits and a social security card. Gradually, he summons the courage to find his estranged daughter (Jena Malone).

Moverman adopts an observational style, using long takes and long lenses as though he were watching an animal in the wild, but did not want the animal to notice the camera. DOP Bobby Bukowski, who worked on Moverman’s previous films, shoots George through windows and doors to further distance him from the world, or to suggest that he has been cast out with the door closed behind him.

Even when there is no dialogue, the sound is incessant and bombards us from everywhere.  In the shelters we hear groans, snoring, men talking in their sleep, and, of course, Dixon’s verbal diarrhoea. We are immersed with George in the city’s indifferent streets.  We, too, experience the lack of privacy and despair of the hostels; and the Kafkaesque waits in public benefit offices.

There is no rising action or plot in Time Out of Mind.  As with Rampart, it is more of a character study than a traditional film.  The episodic structure mirrors the haphazard, aimless and wasted nature of George’s days. While artistically, this makes sense, the combination of the uneventful, meandering pace and the absence of action as we know it are as wearying on the viewer as it is on George.

While the scenes with Vereen (whose performance is worth the price of admission) and Malone are engaging and beautifully done, a scene with Kyra Sedgwick does not ring true, although she certainly looks the part of a homeless bag lady.  Her expository speech to George might describe the experience of abused women, but it sounds like a cliché we’ve heard many times before.

While Gere gives a solid performance, there are only moments when you forget you are watching Richard Gere.   His body is showing signs of age and he can cut his white hair unflatteringly short, but few homeless people look as good and healthy as George. A character in the film even refers to him as ‘handsome’.  You could argue that our memories of Gere as one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood work to the film’s advantage because George wasn’t always destitute and alone.

Taken literally, the title refers to this part of George’s life spent half insane through self-neglect in an alcoholic stupor. But the title might well have been borrowed from Bob Dylan’s 1997 studio album of the same title, considered a triumphant come back for Dylan after a few disappointing albums.  Could the final shot in the film hold the promise of a comeback for George?  The reference to Dylan’s album cannot be coincidental.  After all, Moverman co-wrote Todd Hayne’s Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, which of course, co-starred Richard Gere as Billy the Kid.